Pakistan Executive Dissolves Islamist Party

May 03, 2021
Saad Hussain Rizvi and members of Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan in January 2021

The main Pakistani Islamic organization that called for capital punishment for those guilty of “blasphemy against Islam” - notably the Christian Asia Bibi - has been dissolved by Prime Minister Imran Khan's government. This measure comes after several days of violent demonstrations in the main cities of the country.

The dissolution of the main radical Islamist organization in the country on April 15, 2021 suggests strong political reform.

Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is an extremist party created in 2015 by Khadim Hussain Rizvi – a Sunni cleric, who died in November 2020 and was replaced by his son Saad - whose only claim relates to the fight against blasphemy and those potential perpetrators, especially Christians.

Rizvi’s party began to emerge in Pakistani politics in the 2018 federal election, campaigning on a single topic: defending the controversial blasphemy law when Catholic mother Asia Bibi was acquitted by the Supreme Court.

A controversy was given to the TLP in October 2020, when the French Head of State, Emmanuel Macron, spoke out in favor of the right to caricature Islam, the day after the assassination in France of a teacher who had shown his students satirical drawings depicting Mohammud.

This was welcome ammunition for Saad Hussain Rizvi, who then mobilized his activists on social networks with a hashtag that went viral on the Islamic web: #FrenchLeavePakistan.”

By communicating well, Rizvi encourages the sharing of stories of conversions (real or forced) to Islam: “good news from our demonstration in Gujar Khan [city near Islamabad]. A Christian boy embraced Islam. Now his name is Khadim Hussain. God wills it. Congratulations to all,” a party activist rejoices on WhatsApp.

In early April 2021, TLP even had the luxury of partially blocking the country's two largest cities, Lahore and Karachi, as well as the capital, Islamabad, in order to obtain the expulsion of the French ambassador: demonstrations were brutally repressed by the police.

This is the straw that broke the camel's back: on April 12, Rizvi was arrested, and three days later his organization was dissolved by the Interior Minister of the Islamic Republic, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.

Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Lahore, Mohammad Waseem analyzes this turnaround of the executive, which had nevertheless given support to Rizvi in ​​2017: “The TLP was a past master in the art of provoking unrest on the public highway, by claiming to defend the honor of the Prophet Muhammad. But the protests of the past few days were not good for Pakistan's image on the international stage.”

Pakistan is seeking to restore its image by easing tensions with neighboring India and Afghanistan.

As a precaution, on April 15, the French Foreign Office urged French nationals to “leave Pakistan provisionally for security reasons”: the dissolution of the TLP inaugurates a period of tension for which Christians could pay the price.